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Casey, Albert Vincent

Casey, Albert Vincent

(b. 28 February 1920 in Boston, Massachusetts; d. 10 July 2004 in Dallas, Texas), executive at American Airlines who led the company through deregulation and helped create the first supersaver fares and frequent-flier program.

Casey grew up in Arlington, Massachusetts, one of the four children of John Joseph Casey, who owned a construction company, and Norine (Doyle) Casey, a teacher. When the construction company fell on hard times Casey’s mother started a school for gifted children in the family’s home. The private nursery and elementary school, the Bartlett School, in Waltham, Massachusetts, continued into the early twenty-first century under the direction of Casey’s sister. To help pay his tuition at Harvard University, Casey had an assortment of jobs, such as managing the ushers at Harvard Stadium, delivering newspapers, driving schoolchildren, and working in a grocery store. He graduated from Harvard University in 1943 with an SB in economics. Casey spent four years in the U.S. Army during World War II. After completing his wartime service, he attended Harvard Business School, from which he graduated in 1948 with an MBA.

Casey married Eleanor Welch on 25 August 1945, and the couple adopted two children. In 1948 Casey began his career working for the Southern Pacific Railroad in New York City and later San Francisco, where he became assistant vice president and assistant treasurer. In 1961 Casey started working for Railway Express Agency in New York City, where he directed the departments of finance and accounting; law; purchasing; insurance; construction, including land acquisition; public relations; and personnel—every aspect of the business except operations. In 1963 Casey became president of the Times Mirror Company in Los Angeles, the parent company of the Los Angeles Times. Casey took Times Mirror public. During Casey’s tenure Times Mirror aggressively acquired related businesses, such as book-and-magazine-publishing companies, forest-product firms, cable television systems, radio stations, and other newspapers.

In 1974 Casey left Times Mirror to become president, chairman, and chief executive of American Airlines, which at the time was struggling with considerable debt and high costs due to the type of service then offered. Business analysts and Casey alike were surprised that the company had hired an outsider. When approached by a member of the American Airlines board of directors, Casey reportedly responded, “You have the wrong Casey.” He thought they wanted his brother, who was an executive at Braniff International.

Casey quickly learned the airline business and took immediate steps to address financial problems, moving the headquarters to Fort Worth, Texas, in 1979. American’s move to Dallas–Fort Worth International Airport brought thousands of jobs to the area. Casey diversified the company into the oil-and-gas business and ended American’s money-losing hotel venture. He also cut vacation time for employees. The year before Casey retired, AMR Corporation, the parent of American Airlines, announced its largest profit, $227.9 million for 1983. Before airline deregulation, American Airlines had focused its flights on the coasts and major business centers. Under deregulation the company introduced the cost-saving hub-and-spoke system whereby passengers were brought from smaller airports to larger ones and then flown to their destination. This system quickly replaced the airline’s many direct flights, was widely copied by other airlines, and became the standard for the industry. In 1980 Casey hired Robert Crandall as president of American Airlines. Casey and Crandall introduced sophisticated computer systems for reservations as well as the first supersaver fares and frequent-flier program.

After retiring in 1985, Casey began a career in government and academia. In 1986 he replaced Paul N. Carlin as postmaster general of the U.S. Postal Service. During his six-month tenure Casey developed a plan to streamline the middle-level management of the service. He left the postal service to teach at the Cox School of Business of Southern Methodist University, where he worked until his death. According to his long-time executive assistant, Casey often said he “flunked retirement.” Dick Haven, the former chief executive officer of Allstate Insurance Company and a professor at Cox, said that students loved hearing about Casey’s experiences. A favorite lecture was about the beginning of American’s frequent-flyer program. In his book Casey’s Law: If Something Can Go Right, It Should (1997), Casey described a series of principles for business leaders, such as “Don’t ever shut a door so hard it can’t be opened again” and “Hire talented people. One of them will be your successor.”

Casey was on the board of directors of AMR until 1991. He then was appointed to run the Resolution Trust Corporation, which had been established by the federal government to deal with the assets of failed savings-and-loan associations. The job was undesirable and difficult. Casey was criticized for selling assets too quickly to receive top dollar. He said he was saving millions in carrying costs and management fees. Casey remained with the Resolution Trust Corporation until 1993. In 2002 President George W. Bush appointed Casey to a nine-year term on the board of governors of the U.S. Postal Service. Casey retained an interest in the Boston area through his ties with several universities and his summer home in Brewster, Massachusetts. He served on the Harvard Board of Overseers and contributed to the building of the Fine Arts Center at Regis College in Weston, Massachusetts.

Casey died of a heart attack on 10 July 2004 at his home in Dallas. His wife had died in 1989. Casey’s achievements at American Airlines were remarkable. During a period of rapid changes, Casey improved the airline’s finances and created innovative programs, such as the frequent-flier program and supersaver fares. As a result of Casey’s efforts, traveling through hubs using computerized reservation systems became a routine part of flying worldwide.

For details on Casey’s life and point of view, see his autobiography written with Dick Seaver, Casey’s Law: If Something Can Go Right, It Should (1997). Obituaries are in the Dallas Morning News, the Boston Globe (both 12 July 2004), and the New York Times (14 July 2004).

Sheila Beck

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